Diet Basics: Atkins

At the height of the low-carb craze, Atkins was king. Although many folks claim to lose weight following this plan, it’s not a favorite among registered dietitians—here’s why.

At the height of the low-carb craze, Atkins was king. While many folks claim to lose weight following this plan, registered dietitians and other health pros are no fans — here’s why.

An Overview

Dr. Atkins wrote his first version of the diet in 1973. The plan has you eliminating refined sugar and most carbohydrates (even many fruits and veggies) while filling up on animal proteins (i.e. meat, chicken and fish). Atkins believes that if you produce energy from the fat and protein you’re eating, it will burn fat more efficiently -- a misconception that is not backed up by scientific evidence.

After the first total carb removal, the diet has four phases where carbs are slowly re-introduced into your eating plan:

  • Phase 1: This phase lasts 14 days and has you eating no more than 20 grams of carbs a day (that's little more than a single slice of bread).
  • Phase 2: In this phase you eat an additional 5 grams of carbs each week as you continue to lose weight, until you only have about 5 to 10 pounds left to lose.
  • Phase 3: This is the pre-maintenance phase where you increase carbs until you reach your goal weight.
  • Phase 4: This is a lifelong maintenance phase to keep the weight off.

Under Atkins, example meals might be an omelet with cheese, avocado and a few slices of tomato or grilled chicken with veggies (small amounts of bell pepper and zucchini are allowed). Approved snacks include a handful of almonds or pumpkin seeds but no chips or other carb-heavy foods.

Atkins promises quick weight loss -- up to 15 pounds within the first 2 weeks, which would come mostly from water weight. Most folks tend to follow only the first phase to quickly lose weight, but once they start eating carbs again, all the weight comes right back. According to the National Institute of Health, a safe weight loss sis more like 1 to 2 pounds per week if you want to keep it off.

The Costs

Physically, there are possible side effects when you cut out most of your carbs, such as leg cramps, faintness, headaches and cold sweats. Of course, if you’re not eating much fiber, constipation will occur as well -- sounds like fun! Some followers of the diet also claim to have bad breathe. Other issues health professionals have with this diet is that it’s jam-packed with saturated fat and cholesterol—not a good combination for folks with a history of heart disease or at risk for it.

As for monetary costs, there are dozens of books you can stock up on to help you out. You can also register for free at and receive access to tools such as an online community, recipes and journal for your weight loss progress. As with many big name diet plans, Atkins offers branded snack bars and shakes at many stores.

    The Good
  • Free online site to help guide you.
    The Not-So Good
  • The diet is not balanced and eliminates many healthy foods.
  • Not scientifically sound
  • Its side effects can be dangerous and certainly unpleasant.
  • The proposed rate of weight loss is not safe.

Bottom Line: This is not a healthy or balanced diet that you can maintain for a lifetime. The idea of eliminating or even restricting many delicious and nutrient-packed fruits and veggies just doesn’t make any sense for your overall health and enjoyment of food!

    Read up on other diet plans:
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